Entertainment & Arts

Meet the man who is watching 35 pantomimes this Christmas

Clive Webb, Chris Hayward and Danny Adams at Newcastle Theatre Royal Image copyright Newcastle Theatre Royal
Image caption Daniel Dawson named Newcastle Theatre Royal's Snow White Britain's best pantomime last year

The gaudy merriment of pantomime is a once-a-year treat for many youngsters (and an annual trial for some adults). But one man watches as many pantos as he can every Christmas - and has even set up his own panto awards.

This year, Daniel Dawson is spending more than £3,000 and travelling more than 4,000 miles to see approximately 35 pantomimes all over Britain.

For two months a year, the 42-year-old business account manager from Sheffield immerses himself in a flamboyant world of festive fairytale and farce - because, he says, pantos are a great form of escapism and the pantomime circuit is highly sociable.

Mr Dawson writes about his travels on his Panto Insider website and ends the season by picking his best and worst shows and stars of the year.

Image copyright Daniel Dawson
Image caption Daniel Dawson (second right) with Ben Nickless, Simon Webbe and Christopher Biggins, the stars of Aladdin in Nottingham

How did you become such a big panto fan?

I've collected autographs for a long time and panto is usually a good place to see famous names you perhaps wouldn't get to see for the rest of the year. It became a very easy place to meet famous people and get autographs.

Then I realised I enjoyed the fact that this was a break from the realities of normal life for a couple of hours. You can just forget about what's going on in your life or the world or any problems or difficulties and have a damn good laugh for two-and-a-half hours.

Who's the most famous person you've got an autograph from?

People like Henry Winkler, Priscilla Presley and Linda Gray - they're the big American superstars. And this year I'm hoping I'll get to meet Verne Troyer, who's in Wimbledon.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Verne Troyer (centre) is making his panto debut in Peter Pan in Wimbledon
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Priscilla Presley, pictured with Wayne Sleep in Milton Keynes, is a familiar face on the panto circuit

How long have you been doing your annual panto tour?

Around the last six or seven years. A lot of people who are in panto are interested in what's happening in different cities and who's good and who's not so good, but they're working for most of the season. Anyone who's in panto will struggle to see more than three or four shows themselves.

As the blog took off, people said: 'Who's the best baddie, who was the best fairy this year, who was the best Buttons?' So I thought I'd do an award. It's only a bit of fun - there are no prizes or credibility!

Which theatre has the best panto in Britain?

I went to Newcastle Theatre Royal for the first time five years ago. I didn't really know any of the cast and had very low expectations.

The first show I saw there is still today the best panto I've ever seen. It was sensational. Spectacular, funny, amazing scenes, really good planned mayhem. And they always put on a good show.

This is Clive Webb and Danny Adams's 11th year. They're father and son and their brother Mick's also in the show. It's a fantastic show because they work so well together. And Newcastle try to do things that are completely different to what's been done before and take things one step further.

Stoke is always excellent as well. They've got a fantastic pairing of Johnny Wilkes and Christian Patterson, who are really good friends outside panto season, and it comes across on stage. When people are good friends there's a much better chemistry.

Image copyright Donald Cooper/Rex
Image caption Julian Clary, Joan Collins and Nigel Havers in Dick Whittington: The greatest panto line-up ever?

Who is Britain's best pantomime dame?

From a traditional point of view, the top three would be, in no particular order, Nigel Ellacott, Andrew Ryan and Chris Hayward. They're very glamorous dames with beautiful, exquisite costumes and look phenomenal.

For the 'fat bloke in a dress' type of dame, you've got Damian Williams, who does Sheffield, and Christian Patterson. Those two are so funny it's ridiculous. And it would be unfair not to mention Eric Potts as well, who writes most of the scripts for First Family Entertainment but is also one of their dames.


Daniel Dawson's panto awards 2014/15

  • Pantomime of the year: Snow White - Theatre Royal Newcastle
  • Best lead comedian: Matt Slack - Birmingham Hippodrome
  • Best dame: Damian Williams - Lyceum Sheffield
  • Best fairy/guardian: Fran Mills - Theatre MK
  • Best prince/Aladdin: Jonny Wilkes - Regent Theatre, Stoke
  • Best baron/king: Ian Smith - The Hawth, Crawley
  • Best princess/Cinderella: Holly Brewer - Waterside, Aylesbury
  • See the full awards

Image copyright Nils Jorgensen/Rex
Image caption Steve Guttenberg in Cinderella: 'A fish out of water'

Do celebrities help a panto, or can it backfire?

They can help and they can backfire. I've seen some spectacular fails.

Such as?

A number of years ago Steve Guttenberg was in the UK to do a panto. I love Police Academy but I created the 'fish out of water' award based on his performance. He's an absolutely brilliant comic actor, but he didn't get panto.

But other celebrities are fantastic. Stephen Mulhern last year in Crawley was sensational. Bradley Walsh is another one who is always fantastic in panto. He just knows how to work an audience.

What's the best celebrity panto line-up you've seen?

There was a massive one in Birmingham a few years ago. They had the late Keith Harris and Orville, Julian Clary, Nigel Havers, Joan Collins and Jeffrey Holland who was in Hi-De-Hi. It was a massive show.

How do you fit all the pantos in?

With great difficulty. It takes an awful lot of planning. I try to get to as many shows over weekends as I can. I've also got a season ticket for Sheffield Wednesday and I don't want to miss any home matches either. When Wednesday are away I can go anywhere in the country to watch a show. When they're at home it has to be within an hour of Hillsborough at full-time.

I try to take some time off between Christmas and New Year, and go on an actual tour from Boxing Day through to New Year's Eve. There I'll normally do two shows a day, so that does help me get through quite a lot.

Are you saving up throughout the year?

Absolutely - it is expensive.

Do you join in with the shouting-out?

It depends. You have to get into the spirit of it because if you don't, you won't enjoy the show. Especially if you're close to the front - if you're not joining in they'll pick you out.

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